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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Stuff I Read in 2015

For the last couple of years, I joined's reading challenge, where you set out to read a certain amount of books in a year and then try to get through them all.  In 2015, I tried to do 12, but managed to finish 11 (the last one, Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, I just was too tired in December to get through).  I picked a few books by favorite authors, some by people that I've never read.  Some were surprisingly bad, others were better than I expected, and one was The Martian.

So today, let's give you the rundown of what I read last year, listed alphabetically.

52-Pickup by Elmore Leonard:  I read Get Shorty and Be Cool when I was in my early 20's and decided I was a fan of Elmore Leonard.  I named one of my characters in my most recent novel in his honor (Dutch).  I started this book expecting it to be an awesomely gritty crime story.  Instead, I found it to be horribly dated, what with the free-flowing racial slurs and very outdated sensibilities.  It was written in the 70's though, so I won't say he had lost touch, but the book definitely did not age well.  2 stars.

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk: Palahniuk is another favorite of mine, having read six or seven of his books, including Fight Club and Choke.  Beautiful You is the story of a woman who is made to be the guinea pig for a new generation of sex toy designed by a powerful businessman that has disastrous side effects up to and including death.  These sex toys have turned women all over the world into masturbation addicts, and only the guinea pic, through mastery of her own sexuality, has a chance of stopping his plan for world domination.  It's a well-written, off the wall story that I had a ton of fun with.  4 stars.

The Dead Run by Adam Mansbach:  Yes, the Go The Fuck To Sleep guy.  I liked another book of his (Rage is Back) and gave The Dead Run a look.  I'm glad I did.  In it, Mansbach weaves together a noir/supernatural tale that weaves together a smuggling story with a cult worshiping an immortal Incan priest.  What really impressed me more than anything is that it seems Mansbach has a deep respect for ancient myths and legends regarding older cultures, and sprinkles that stuff liberally in the last two books of his I read (Rage is Back also had a mystic aspect to it, along with deep roots in B-boy culture.  Another day though...).  It was a great thrill ride and quite a compelling page-turner.  Adam Mansbach is more than a gimmick children's writer.  4 stars.

Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore by Walter Mosley:  I have a Walter Mosley book that I haven't gotten around to reading, but when I saw the premise to this one, I had to pick it up.  Porn mega-star Debbie Dare retires after the death of her cheating, abusive, porn-producer husband dies and finds herself burdened with the enormous debt her husband incurred to various LA lowlifes.  In addition to figuring that out, she must reconcile with her family, his family, and the son she had when she was a teenager.  It's a great setup, but it never quite got past "simmer" for me.  I found myself engrossed enough to read it in a day and a half, but never quite got the payoff I was looking for.  Not bad, but not great either.  3 stars.

The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry:  Book Two in his Joe Ledger series, of which I had read one and three and loved.  The Dragon Factory features Joe Ledger and his DMS team pursuing a group of geneticists descended from Josef Mengele, who have created genetically engineered mythological creatures (dragons, unicorns, etc) for hunters sport... and to create an unstoppable army of fearsome potential to rule the world after a virus clears out all who do not fit the Nazi ideal of the Master Race.  Yeah, I know, completely off the walls, batshit crazy.  But wow, was this a fun action movie of a read.  4 stars.

Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard:  My second Elmore Leonard book of 2015 led me to realize that I'm not as big a fan of his as I thought.  Which is a shame.  He follows two ex-hippie bombers as they try to extort a million dollars from someone they ran with back in the day, and the detective trying to stop them.  Fairly bland, very dated.  But I got through it in a day.  3 stars.

Ghosts of Manhattan by Douglas Brunt:  Well-written story about a guy working at Bear Stearns at the the onset of the 2008 financial crisis... well-written in the sense that the story was well told.  The protagonist, however, a very wealthy trader who is suddenly having a crisis of conscience with his lifestyle (oh, no, the hooker and blow life has too many hookers and too much blow... woe is me) rang completely hollow with me.  I found him to be completely unlikable and his "struggle" didn't seem to be much of one at all.  Liked the story, hated the storyteller.  3 stars.

The Martian by Andy Weir:  The first manned mission to Mars leaves a man stranded on the surface after a freak dust storm, and he has to "science the shit out of this" to survive the estimated 600+ days it will take to wait for rescue.  Brilliant and compelling, science-fiction close enough to realistic with an ease of access akin to Bill Nye The Science Guy.  Thoroughly engrossing, we see the hero, Mark Watney, use science and humor to keep himself alive, hopeful and sane, alone on a barren planet, presumed dead, and billions of miles from home.  Can't say enough good things about this.  Read it.  Now.  5 stars.

Monster by A. Lee Martinez:  I underestimated this one going in, thinking it was kind of kiddie-fluff.  Mistake.  This turned out to be a solid supernatural read about a color-changing monster hunter and his paper-man sidekick, protecting a normal human from the magical forces trying to get to her.  I'm not usually into fantasy stuff, but this was pretty fun to read.  4 stars.

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore: The latest by my current favorite author, Secondhand Souls is the sequel to A Dirty Job. The sequel finds a resurrected Charlie Asher and his friends Lily, Audrey,  retired detective Alphonse Rivera and Minty Fresh, once again battle the mythical Morrigan for the souls of the recently departed in San Francisco while their new master, Minty's cousin Lemon Fresh seeks to ascend (or descend) and become a new god of Death.  I'm a massive fan of Christopher Moore, and A Dirty Job was the first book of his that I read, so naturally Secondhand Souls was incredibly fun for me.  If you haven't read the earlier book, then very little of it will makes sense to you at first.  But I think you'll still enjoy it as Moore's engaging and riotously funny style gets you over that hump.  4 stars.

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore:  This sequel to Fool puts Pocket the Jester in Italy as he finds himself in the middle of Shakespeare's Othello, and with old friends and a new pet sea serpent, seeks to stop a coup.  I wasn't as big a fan of Fool as I was of Christopher Moore's other stuff, but it wasn't bad.  It was original and funny.  This is kind of like the joke you love and makes you smile, but you've heard it before so you don't enjoy it quite so much.  3 stars.

There you go.  11 books, one year.  Not bad, but this year, let's see if I can do more...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Billion-Dollar (Day)Dream

Powerball is at $1.3 billion for Wednesday's drawing, and if you're like me, you've got most of it spent already,  what with the homes you would buy and friends and family you would help or avoid.  Some would see the world, others would invest in a solid gold bathtub (because, you know, gold is a stable investment).  And I would love for you all to comment on what you would do in the comments section down below.

Personally, I would send all my inner circle an email to go to the airport at a specific time.  There would be a ticket waiting for them.  And we would go on one EPIC adventure.  After that was done, though, it would be time to make that money work for me.  I may be crazy, and I'm definitely not a finance guy, but here's what I would do.

First, I would move my family (brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces) to one place, where we would own a block off homes, or a cul-de-sac or something.  Thomas Town would be born.

Next, I would set up my nephews and nieces with independent million dollar trust funds, untouchable until they turn 21.

I would section off an enormous amount to simply accrue interest.

I would then start Thomas Holdings, Ltd as a way to allot the money in a manner that it would never be completely depleted.  This company would be the way I did real estate back home (more on that later), do an entertainment startup, or any number of ventures that two or three hundred million would allow.  I would have the holding company pay me and my family a salary (to at least give the illusion that there should be some degree of responsibility for one's own money) and live.

The real estate thing is a big deal to me, as it would be my way of giving back to my hometown.  I'm from Brooklyn, NY (as most of you know), and grew up in Flatbush, one of the neighborhood that is at the center of the big gentrification issues going on back home.  While it may be all Starbucks and hipster now, when I was there it was affordable, low-to-middle income housing (the 'hood).  Some of my greatest friendships were forged there, some of my best memories happened there, and some of the best stories that can't be told start and end there.  If you go to my closest circle of friends and say the words "Silencio del Gato," they will smile, laugh... and bite the cyanide pill in their teeth to avoid revealing secrets (we take that seriously).  But I digress.

New York as a whole, Brooklyn in particular, has become inaccessible for the most part to the low-to-middle income citizen, despite that being the vast majority of the city.  Ask any one of the five co-workers sharing a two-bedroom, 950 sq. ft. apartment in Bed-Stuy or Sunset Park, and paying a grand.  Each.  What I would do is, starting with the block I grew up on, buy some of the older buildings, renovate them, and rent them out to low-to-middle income families.  Not the projects, but actual livable apartments.  With reasonable square footage.  That didn't demand 75% of your earnings to simply keep a roof over your head.  There are some that would regard this as a bleeding-heart fantasy devoid of any business sense, but I disagree.  Yes, can cater to the high-end and make large sums of money, but there are more people two or three tiers down than there are at the top, and that is a huge market in NYC.  With a little less than a billion dollars in the bank, profit wouldn't be my primary motivation, but it would generate income nonetheless.

It's a billion-dollar fantasy that makes me smile.  And if my $20 pulls that in and makes that fantasy a reality, how cool would that be?

But hey, it's the lottery.  I might as well ask Santa Claus to make that happen.

Feel free to comment with your daydreams and money wishes.  Cheers!

Side note:  I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to the late David Bowie.  Along with Madonna, he was the master of innovation and reinvention, both stylistically and musically.  You've gotta hand it to a man who managed to stay relevant since the mid-70s.  RIP, Mr. Bowie.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Happy New Year!!

Welcome to 2016!

I'm a little late, sorry about that, traffic was murder.  This is the right space to give a first of the year update on projects and life in general.

First and foremost, I (finally) completed the first draft of my next novel, with the working title Open.  Cue the champagne and balloons!!  It's part of the reason why this blog posting is so late as I took a break from writing anything other than my name over the last couple of weeks.  Now comes the largely fun task of rewriting and rewriting before I go into beta reads and edits.  The next six or seven weeks should be interesting.

I'm training for Tough Mudder 2016 in Whistler, BC.  It's one of those "focused goal" things I would like to do this year, finish the course in 4 hours or less.  Right now, it means lots of working out.

I don't have a whole lot else, but thanks for stopping by!